Addressing the effect of offshore wind farms on marine ecosystems

Offshore wind farm

A new research programme has been launched to address the critical gap in understanding how marine ecosystems will respond to the continued growth of offshore wind farms.

This is as the sector ramps up to deliver 40 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

The £7 million programme, known as ECOWind, is a joint initiative led by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in partnership with The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The four-year programme will fund leading-edge research into how offshore wind farms affect the marine environment, alongside other growing pressures on UK ecosystems. This includes climate change and human activities such as fishing. In particular, the programme will focus on how populations and inter-species interactions are responding to offshore wind deployment and how marine observations can be enhanced through innovative technologies to improve our understanding.

Understanding effects of offshore wind farms

The research findings will inform key decision-makers in the management of UK waters to help achieve the UK’s commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Whilst also ensuring net environmental gain and marine environmental restoration.

ECOWind will engage the academic community, helping to develop long-term successful relationships between:

  • researchers
  • government
  • industry.

It will work in collaboration with the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme, which facilitates the sustainable and coordinated expansion of offshore wind to:

  • help meet the UK’s commitments to low carbon energy transition
  • support clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas.

The Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme is led by The Crown Estate, which has committed to a five year £25 million ‘kick-starter’ investment. It is being delivered in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Defra.

Meeting net zero targets

Professor Susan Waldron, NERC’s Director of Research and Skills, said:

The UK has set a legal requirement to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will reduce our contribution to climate change. Expanding sustainable energy generation is at the heart of the government’s strategy but it’s important we understand the response from wildlife and marine ecosystems to help manage this sustainably.

Working closely with The Crown Estate and Defra, this collaborative programme will analyse the ecological consequence of large-scale expansion of offshore wind farms to inform future policy decisions throughout UK waters.

Supporting COP26

Mandy King, Programme Manager for the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme at The Crown Estate, said:

We are incredibly proud to be supporting this investment in leading edge research. The programme will bring together industry, government and some of the brightest brains in the academic community who will use the power of science to help us better understand long-term environmental change to our precious marine ecosystems and the role of offshore wind in it.

We are keen to better understand the opportunities for environmental benefits and gains from the use of innovative new technologies.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

The UK is a leader in marine protection and this pioneering research programme will ensure that we continue to work towards achieving clean and biologically diverse seas.

This collaboration will build on the work of the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme and inform plans to develop more clean energy while ensuring we protect our precious marine life.

Further information

ECOWind stands for The Ecological Consequences of Offshore Wind. This research programme will fund projects which seek to:

  • understand the ecological consequences of the planned expansion of offshore wind in the context of increasing pressures on UK marine ecosystems
  • provide evidence to inform marine policy and management.

This has been established in response to the urgent need for leading edge research that takes advantage of innovative technologies. That is, to better understand the functioning of the UK marine ecosystems within which large-scale offshore wind deployment is situated, in order to develop policy and management solutions to address:

  • commitments to net zero
  • other anthropogenic activities, for example:
    • oil and gas
    • aquaculture
    • carbon capture and underground storage
    • fishing
  • and emerging policy areas (net gain and environmental restoration).

About the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme

The programme focuses on four overarching themes, identified through collaboration with stakeholders, which are:

  • spatial co-ordination and co-location
  • understanding environmental effects
  • unlocking more offshore wind through legislation changes
  • delivering net environmental gains.

The Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme is an ambitious strategic research and data-led programme to facilitate the sustainable and coordinated expansion of offshore wind in the UK.  It is a five-year programme that will play a pivotal role in achieving the environmental aspirations of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal alongside other strategic delivery programmes.

The programme is led by The Crown Estate in partnership with BEIS and Defra.  It is being delivered in collaboration with a number of organisations that share an interest in planning for the future of offshore wind.

The organisations that are members of the programme steering group are:

  • Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
  • Crown Estate Scotland
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Programme Partner
  • Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Programme Partner
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland
  • Historic England
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee
  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency
  • Marine Management Organisation
  • National Grid Electricity System Operator
  • National Grid Transmission Owner
  • Natural England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • NatureScot
  • Offshore Wind Industry Council / Pathways to Growth
  • Office of Gas and Electricity Markets
  • The Planning Inspectorate
  • RenewableUK
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • Scottish Government (including Marine Scotland)
  • Seabed User and Developer Group
  • The Crown Estate – Programme Lead
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Trinity House
  • Welsh government.

Read further information about the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme.

Top image: Credit: MR1805 / Getty Images

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